Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Early Childhood Education

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Pamela Evanshen

Committee Members

Rosemary Geiken, Carol Trivette, Ruth Facun-Granadozo


Guided by the constructivist framework, the focus of the investigation was on second-grade students and their perceptions of their classrooms’ physical learning environment.

A qualitative multiple case study approach was employed, and data were collected through interviews, participant-generated photographs, and observations. Participants in the study were 16 second-grade students in four classrooms in three school districts in Northeast Tennessee. A physical learning environment tool, Assessing the Pillars of the Physical Environment for Academic Learning (APPEAL), developed by Evanshen and Faulk (2019) was used to select classrooms to take part in the study. The tool focuses on dimensions that help observers evaluate the quality of the primary classroom physical learning environment on a continuum of traditional to constructivist elements.

Findings revealed that second-grade students are aware of, and are affected by, their classrooms’ physical learning environment. Generally, participants believed that classroom physical learning environments that were best for them were meaningful, offered easy access to resources and materials, and provided opportunities for active learning and social engagement. Both physical and emotional comfort were important to participants.

There were more similarities than differences between the perceptions shared by participants in the classrooms that scored highest on the APPEAL (more constructivist or student-centered) and the classrooms that scored lowest (more traditional or teacher-centered) on the scale. Some of the differences that emerged were that all the students who were in the teacher-centered classrooms identified features connected to computers as something they liked whereas most of the students in the learner-centered classrooms did not. Students in the learner-centered classrooms were more articulate in talking about how displays helped them to learn, and students in the teacher- centered classroom communicated the need to change displays.

Additionally, the findings suggested that young children’s perceptions about the environment can be influenced by their experiences or contexts and their individual differences. The findings encourage teachers of young children to think about their students as actively affected by their environment and challenge them to design classroom physical learning environments that support the diverse needs of students within these spaces.

Document Type

Thesis - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.